|Personnel: Darryl Moore, Chuckii Booker, IRIZ, Lucky Witherspoon, Michael Eric Dyson, Paul Woodruff, Neo Abyss, Dave Hollister, Gerald Levert, The Ambassador, Jill Scott, KRS-One, Killer Mike , Lenny Williams , M1, Malik Yusef, Andr? 3000, Prince, Rah Digga, Rhymefest, Talib Kweli, Waynee Wayne, Black Thought, Tavis Smiley, Doey Rock.
|The thought and purpose behind the second album by Dr. Cornel West, professor of religion and member of the African-American Studies Department at Princeton, is certainly an important, even noble one: reclaim hip-hop as a progressive political and artistic tool for the black community. Rap music, like blues and jazz before it, evolved from an expression of the social conditions that impacted African-Americans, and grew from there into the megalith it is today, and its effect on youth is apparent. So he gathered up a fairly impressive roster of forward-thinking black musicians and set to work on Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations, a collection of 16 tracks that aims to explore and address ideas and problems that relate specifically to the aforementioned situation. And it is in fact this roster -- Prince, M1 from Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Black Thought from the Roots, KRS-One, and Andr? 3000 being the most notable members -- that makes the record an actual musical accomplishment. Because despite Dr. West's intentions, and his ideas, his talents as a rapper are fairly limited, and his verbal contributions end up being some of the weaker points on the record. It is also most assuredly because of this that he shows up in a rather limited capacity, adding intermittent thoughts and introductions but letting the vocalists go off on their own. Prince's track, "Dear Mr. Man," is pretty great, and shows an angry side of his not often seen ("Ain't no sense in voting, same song with a different name/Might not be in the back of the bus, but it sure feels just the same," he yowls), as are the verses M1 and Talib Kweli both put down (in "Mr. President" and "Bushonomics," respectively). The thing is, even though these are, for the most part, focused and intelligent pieces that look to break stereotypes instead of dispel them, they're also the kind of thing that fans of these guest artists have heard before (very literally in the case of Andr? 3000's track, "Chronomentrophobia," which was included, minus the Cornel West interlude, on 2006's Idlewild), and so people who will buy and listen to this album are probably already well aware of what the professor is talking about. Musically, too, while it starts off strongly enough, it soon slips into smooth R&B that's not particularly original or interesting. So though Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations may be trying to give hip-hop the makeover it needs and deserves, it misses the mark, misses the audience it truly needs to address, and so its actual effectiveness is very much in question. ~ Marisa Brown